In Houston, 0% of people have switched to a plan that has some renewable energy component to it. Another 0% have switched to a plan that is partially renewable, while 0% have switched to a plan that powers homes completely by renewable electricity. This of course means that 100% of people have remained on a plan powered by traditional sources of electricity such as coal or nuclear power.
According to The Watchdog, the broker SaveOnEnergy hosts powertochooseTX.com and powertochooseTX.org, among many others. These sites – although branded as SaveOnEnergy – can appear to offer quotes from all available electricity suppliers in a given zip code, just as you would find on the PUCT’s PowertoChoose.org. But in reality, the only offers listed on this site are from suppliers who contract with SaveOnEnergy to sell residential and commercial plans on their behalf.
Shopping for a plan based on renewable sources is no different than shopping for any other kind of plan — you calculate your costs the same way, look for the same fees, and weigh in customer satisfaction and other perks. The one thing that’s different is also looking at what percentage of your energy comes from renewable content in the EFL. That number can swing from as low as 0 percent all the way up to 100 percent, with the majority of plans that partially offset energy with renewable content hovering around 15 percent.
Not understanding the system, I overpaid — but I quickly grew tired of that. I decided to educate myself. Eventually, I figured out a system. My Watchdog Nation Guide to Electricity Savings is built on the idea that companies should be judged two ways — by lowest rate and by company reputation. When the stars align, the right company is obvious. (Note: This doesn’t apply to customers in mandatory electricity co-ops or municipal-owned utilities.)
One desired effect of the competition is lower electricity rates. In the first few years after the deregulation in 2002, the residential rate for electricity increased seven times, with the price to beat at around 15 cents per kilowatt hour (as of July 26, 2006, www.powertochoose.org) in 2006. However, while prices to customers increased 43% from 2002 to 2004, the costs of inputs rose faster, by 63%, showing that not all increases have been borne by consumers. (See Competition and entry of new firms above for discussion on the relationship between retail prices, inputs, and investment.)
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Recently, several retail electricity suppliers and brokers have begun incorporating the words “power to choose” in online advertising, web URLs, and web content that is indexed by search engines. This could skew the search results for consumers entering the term “power to choose,” directing them to websites run by brokers and suppliers rather than by the PUCT.
For example, if you use a small amount of energy each month, you expect to be rewarded — right? Unfortunately, nearly all electricity plans from Texas REPs are advertised as costing more per kWh the less electricity you use. It’s a little like buying in bulk: Providers often discount your bill when you cross certain kWh thresholds. For instance, one 12-month plan from StarTex Power quotes 8.1 cents per kWh for 1,000 kWh a month and 8.8 cents for 2,000 kWh per month, but 12.1 cents for 500 kWh per month. Why the difference? Customers get $35 back each month if they pass 1,000 kWh of use, and another $15 back per month if they cross 2,000 kWh. In this case, using half as much electricity as your neighbor on the same plan wouldn’t get you half the bill.